What UNDA staff can bargain on

“The University will approach these negotiations with a mindset of finding a fair, just and sensible outcome,” University of Notre Dame VC Francis Campbell tells staff about imminent enterprise bargaining. But what does that mean?

Perhaps Professor Campbell wrote in Lewis Carroll mode, “ ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ ”

There’s more in the Mail

In Features this morning

On-campus, in-person classes augmented with on-line delivery is not working, Martin Betts (HEDx) and David Kellermann (UNSW) argue in a new selection by Commissioning Editor Sally KiftHERE.

“This plays out in different ways regarding equity, inclusion and accessibility and we need to make specific responses for these factors. There is a huge ongoing agenda for innovation here in new approaches to equitable access to technology-enabled pedagogy,” they state.

plus, James Guthrie and John Dumay (Macquarie U), with Ann Martin-Sardesai (Central Queensland U) make the case for ending Excellence in Research for Australia in their submission to the Australian Research Council review.

VET FEE HELP too disgraceful to forget

Victims of the spivs whose greed led to the VET FEE HELP outrage are nearly out of time to apply to have their students debts credited. Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor is on to it

The existing legislative instrument that covers people misled into signing up for courses they did not need expires at year end but the explanatory statement for a new one makes the case for 12 months more. Thanks to the learned Andrew Norton for pointing this out.

While 163 000 students have had the debts cancelled (technically their HELP debts are re-credited), the Commonwealth Actuary advices there are potentially still some to go.

Which makes the extension excellent.

What isn’t is that the $2.2bn VET FEE HELP affront to the public purse is now largely forgotten.

The Australian National Audit Office explained what occurred (CMM December 21 2016) but how VET FEE HELP occurred, under Labor and coalition governments, has never been properly presented to the public.

ARC for researchers from researchers

The Australian Institute of Physics is asking members for comment on its initial thinking on a submission to the Sheil Review of the Australian Research Council

what AIP wants: an ARC board which “should consist of prominent members of the research community, appointed by the research community” plus a board appointed CEO who will be helped by an advisory panel

what it doesn’t: any National Interest Test, fewer “onerous” administrative arrangements and an end to Excellence in Research for Australia and Engagement and Impact, which are, “a costly initiative (both for the universities and the ARC) and no longer of benefit to the research community and the ARC.”

To find out what’s next in AI ask it


My social media feeds this week have been full of people sharing their wonder (and shock) at a major advance in artificial intelligence – OpenAI’s new ChatGPT.

Using Chat GPT, it was noted that “academics have generated responses to exam queries that they say would result in full marks if submitted by an undergraduate, and programmers have used the tool to solve coding challenges in obscure programming languages in a matter of seconds.”

Bearly AI uses OpenAI and GPT3 in a more user-friendly package to automate:

* writing ideas based on existing text

* generating first drafts on any topic

* instant summaries (including key takeaways and counter-arguments) for any article or YouTube video

Of course AI assistants like this are imperfect… but what capacities might they have in 2023 or 2024? And where will the sector’s assessment policies be by then?

Commenting on social media, Phillip Dawson from Deakin University’s Centre for Research in Assessment & Digital Learning, noted that “when academics start using AI tools to reduce their 7,500 word paper to fit a 6000 word limit I imagine we’ll see all manner of justifications for why this is ok but students using AI writers is not.”

Whether you agree with Professor Dawson’s comments or not – this is a mainstream debate we need to be having in higher education, and to a lesser extent VET (which because of its competency-based approach is less reliant on written assessments).

While we know the kinds of assessment practices we need in a digital environment to ensure students really understand what has been taught, regrettably it appears that these practices are still not as widespread as they need to be.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s endeavours to block access to cheating services will not prevent access to these AI assistants. Anti-plagiarism tools are also ineffective, because the technology does not involve copying published works.

In trialling these tools I asked them for a summary of the benefits of Australian regional universities. I received well written responses outlining a number of features of them.

For an in-depth discussion of the importance of regional universities, I spoke with CQU’s Prof. Helen Huntly. No AI involved – instead an expert’s view, but it is worth noting that many of the points Professor Huntly made were also picked up by these AI tools…

 Claire Field is the host of the ‘What now? What next?’ podcast. Her interview with Prof. Huntly is available online

UNSW HDR research students in (some) money

From next year all scholarships will be $35 000, 15 per cent above the Commonwealth funded rate

And in ’24 the university will hike HDR schols again, to $37 680, which it expects to be one of the highest, “if not the highest” in the country.

The new rate means that after paying annual rent on a two-bedroom flat near UNSW a postgrad would still have $4000 left from their scholarship. But there is nothing the university can do about eastern Sydney property prices and as DVC R Nicholas Fisk puts it, “with 2 per cent of Australians now holding a PhD, impoverishing stipend rates can no longer be ignored.”

Jason Clare stands on the education high ground

for Labor good education policy is good politics

In a speech marking the imminent centenary of the Smith Family, Education Minister Jason Clare praises the charity, as “an organisation that has always understood that education is the most powerful cause for good. That it is the real change agent in our society.”

Mr Clare went on to cite his three-policy plan to change the present situation where, “children from poor families are less likely to go to preschool, less likely to finish high school and less likely to go to university than children from wealthier families.”

on the Universities Accord: “It will look at everything from quality and standards to international education and research. But what I really want them to zero in on is equity.”

the National School Reform Agreement: “young people from poor backgrounds are less likely to finish high school. We need to fix this.”

and on a Productivity Commission review: to “advise on how to build a universal early education system that gives every Australian child the opportunity that they deserve.”

There is nothing new in the speech but it demonstrates that for Labor good education policy is good politics.

How so The Opposition is now electorally irrelevant on education policy outside its base, culture warring on teacher education and expressed contempt for the humanities has seen to that

But the Greens aren’t. Senator Faruqi (NSW) works hard to pitch the party as a friend to students (she has a bill proposing to end indexation of HECS payments) and a supporter of researchers – she led the charge against the ARC National Interest Test.

This must matter to Labor. According to the new ANU-Griffith U  analysis of the election, 67 per cent of Gen Z (born in 1996 or after), those with most immediate experience of education, vote Labor or Green. It’s not a problem for the ALP while Green preferences flow its way, but it will be when the two parties are in contention for seats.

By presenting Labor as the party of education as an engine of opportunity for all Mr Clare takes control of moral ground so high that while policies will be criticised the party’s purpose will be beyond electoral approach.

Uni Melbourne to host “voice on biodiversity”

It’s joined by 11 other unis

The Biodiversity Council, will foster public, policy and industry recognition of the biodiversity crisis and … positive opportunities and solutions.”

It’s funded by philanthropists and 11 founding universities, ANU, Charles Darwin U, Deakin U, Macquarie U, Monash U, Uni Adelaide, Uni Canberra, Uni Melbourne, Uni Sydney, Uni Queensland  and UWA.

Environment and Water Minister, Tanya Plibersek launches the council today.

Appointments, achievements

Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education 2023 Executive is, * Sandy Barker (Uni SA) second two-year term * Chris Campbell (Charles Sturt U) continues president * Thomas Cochrane (Uni Melbourne) second two-year term * Michael Cowling (Central Queensland U) continues VP * Sue Gregory (Uni New England) second year of two-year term * Elaine Huber (Uni Sydney second year of two-year term * Hazel Jones (Griffith U co-opted) second year of two-year term * Petrea Redmond (Uni Southern Queensland) second two-year term * Mark Schier (UNE) is Treasurer, second two-year term * Kwong Nui Sim (International College of Management Sydney) continues, for second year of two-year term * Robert Vanderburg (Central Queensland U) new member.

Ilsa Colson is the inaugural CEO of the new Uni Melbourne based Biodiversity Council. She was chief of staff to former Victorian deputy premier, James Merlino.

As of February ANU VC Brian Schmidt will be chair of the Group of Eight. Mark Scott (Uni Sydney) will be deputy.

Jeremy Pritchard (Uni Tas) is confirmed as director of the Tasmania Law Reform Institute. He has acted since August.

Angela Sam (National Measurement Institute) is elected to the Asia Pacific Metrology Programme’s executive committee.